St Catherine of Siena Church

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Things to do


Date of travel

March, 2017

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On a return journey from meeting up with friends, we stopped off in the village of Cocking, near Midhurst, West Sussex to visit the 11th century Grade 1 listed church of St Catherine of Siena.

The Domesday Book records the village of Cocking as ‘Cochinges’ and describes it as having a church and five mills.

The church has served the parish of Cocking for over 1,000 years and inside, the main features of interest are the 11th century chancel arch, the remnants of a 13th century wall painting and the 12th century font.

The wall painting which has been dated to 1220 is part of the Christmas story and shows the shepherds with a dog looking up to the Star of Bethlehem. Above them are the arms of an angel pointing to the star and holding a palm branch.

St Catherine’s was built as a simple. ‘two cell’ church with a nave and chancel. The south aisle and Lady Chapel were added about 1300 during the Decorated Gothic period. At the same time, the chancel windows were enlarged and the tower was built.

A minstrel’s gallery was built at the western end of the nave during the Puritan era. At the eastern end there is a small organ built by Bishops of London. It has a single keyboard, no pedals.three stops and over 150 pipes.

On the south wall of the chancel is a triangle-headed piscina dating from the early 14th century which was uncovered during the 1896 restoration.

In 1865 the Rev. Ash was responsible for the building of the north aisle during which time the south aisle was refaced with flint, the porch was added and the south arcade was restored.

It is not known if the church had any dedication prior to the 21st century. In April 2007 the congregation agreed to dedicate it to St Catherine of Siena.

As soon as I set foot into the church, it felt warm and friendly and it was pleasant taking time to walk around.

Outside is a good sized graveyard which turned out to have a famous neighbour. The large garden next to the graveyard had a large pond, rowing boat and some rather unusual sculptures placed at intervals. We spotted the name Jackson and later learnt that it was the famous world renowned sculptor, Peter Jackson who was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2009. When I did research afterwards, I found a whole list of his work, most recently, Mahatma Ghandi in Parliament Square (2015), Korean War Memorial statue in London (2014) and many others. Looking at some pictures of his sculptors I recognised that some of the garden sculptures appeared to like those of ‘The Grandees,’ The Sentinels,’ and Three Gentlemen of Vincenza.

As we were were walking around just beyond the graveyard, trying to get a different angle view of the garden, we met an elderly lady getting water for some flowers for her husband’s grave. We got talking and it was she who confirmed the garden belonged to Peter Jackson and that it was open to the public once a year, but not sure of the date! His work studio is just a short distance away.

The woman we talked to was born in Scotland, met her husband in Switzerland and ended up in Cocking quite a number of years ago. She told us how at one time, she and her husband opened up what is now the Moonlight Cottage Tea room and Garden as you go through the village. Not far away is the remains of Cocking Lime Works, abandoned in 1999 and the associated chalk pit. She told us how when her child was a baby in the pram, the blasting used to work him up at 1pm each day! A very friendly woman, and nice to be able to chat and gain additional information.
Some houses of the 17th century origin still remain in the village. The population of the village in 1931 was 431.

Apparently where the chalk pit is situated, is where Britain’s last sixth earthquake induced fatality occurred. On the 18th September 1833, a Mr William Marshall was killed by falling rock caused by a force 3.0 earthquake which had its epicentre a few miles south of Chichester.

Next time, must wander around the other part of the village. Strange how you pass though places many times, but never really discover hidden surprises!

Caroline Hutchings

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